Photo by the author.

The Safeway in the Willston Center near Seven Corners in Fairfax County recently underwent a major renovation. This renovation provides no access for pedestrians along the sidewalk in front of the store, forcing pedestrians to walk in the parking lot.

The new renovation is a vast improvement over the old Safeway store that was here. It’s bigger, newer, cleaner and includes a Starbucks. Unfortunately, no one paid any attention to how the front of the store interacts with the parking lot and the sidewalk.

This Safeway is not a stand-alone store. It is in a strip that contains a dozen other establishments. It is also adjacent to and very near a large number of apartment buildings, and a significant number of users (myself included) can and do walk to this strip. So it is not a suburban, car-only type of place, even though it has a large parking lot in front.

Although many users come to the Safeway, many also come to the other establishments, and if they wish to visit any that require them to pass by the Safeway (which is in the middle), they must walk into the parking lot to pass in front of the store.

This is, in fact, a dangerous situation.  Pedestrians are forced out not into a parking area, but into the moving traffic along the front of the store.  The large columns are visual obstacles for both the pedestrians and the drivers.  It is likely that at some point in time—probably at night or in other lower visibility conditions—someone will be struck.

Here are some photos:

The BB&T Bank is to the west (left) of the Safeway. To walk past the Safeway to stores on the right, one must walk out into the parking lot.

This narrow section of sidewalk is navigable without going into the parking lot, but there’s not a lot of room.

The point where the trash can is located is the place where there is no sidewalk option available. All pedestrians must walk out into the parking lot in order to pass this section. Depending on where the cart storage is, pedestrians may also be forced out at the left of the photo where the leaning sign is located.

This is just past the trash can. The sidewalk is about 12 inches wide, but there is also a sign in the way.

Here’s a look from the opposite angle. The sign and trash can are visible on the left side of the photo.

This photo is also taken from the east. The trash can is visible. The BB&T Bank is beyond the Safeway.

Fairfax County’s zoning ordinance is hundreds and hundreds of pages.  A search through the sections that deal with commercial retail properties like this shopping center resulted in virtually no mentions whatsoever of sidewalks or other pedestrian amenities.

The designers of this Safeway were therefore not required to give any consideration to pedestrians, which is obvious from the outcome.  Only those who drive cars were considered in their design choices.  Even those who drive here and may also want to go to the bank or to the dollar store nearby are forced to step out into the parking lot traffic in order to do so.

To his credit, when this problem was pointed out to the manager, he was surprised and concerned and expressed his opinion that this design would provide a disservice to his customers.  Too bad they didn’t ask him before they started.

Steve Offutt has been working at the confluence of business and environment for almost 20 years, with experience in climate change solutions, green building, business-government partnerships, transportation demand management, and more. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children and is a cyclist, pedestrian, transit rider and driver.